“Do what I say, not what I do.”
We’ve all heard it. Many of us have said it. The parenting cliche that had my eyes rolling into the back of my skull as a child.
I’ve always had trouble with this statement. I’m a visual learner and have the attention span of a chicken when it comes to listening to directions.
Tell me how to do something, you’re going to have to tell me at least three times. Show me how to do something and once is enough.
I see it all the time.
Parents yelling at their children to stop yelling.
Parents hitting their kids if they hit another kid.
Parents telling their children to read more and watch less TV while never picking up a book.
Parents encouraging their kids to eat healthy while their cars are littered with fast food wrappers.
That sounds a little judge-y and I don’t mean for it to be. But seriously though, how can you expect your kids to make good choices when you aren’t making them yourself?
Children are sponges, soaking in new experiences and interactions at a remarkable rate.
So what’s the simplest way to teach your children the value of kindness, empathy, and compassion? Be a kind, empathetic, and compassionate person.
I remember when I was a kid, one day my mom asked my brother and me to gather old jackets and blankets we no longer used and piled them in the car. We went to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, and a case of water. We helped her make sandwiches and put them into little Ziploc bags.
Then we drove downtown and passed out sandwiches, bottled water, blankets, and jackets to any homeless people we could find.
I watched my mom put a blanket over a sleeping homeless man and a sandwich next to him for when he woke up. I watched her give a homeless woman the jacket off her back when we ran out of jackets that would fit her.
These memories stuck with me throughout my life. To this day, I keep granola bars and water bottles in my car in case I run into someone down on their luck who just needs something to eat or drink.
And I have my mother’s example to thank for that.
Parenting is cool. While teaching our kids to become decent human beings, we become better human beings ourselves. We aren’t perfect (and Lord knows, neither are they) but if we show up everyday being the best version of ourselves we can be in that moment, they will too.
Love yourself and they will love themselves too. Strive for greatness and they will too.
It’s not an exact science. After all, they are their own individual who will inevitably make their own choices and mistakes. But leading by example is the simplest, most effective way to develop strong moral character in your child.